Here’s my first selection of films for this year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, in order of quality.
A American Factory
One of the most technically accomplished, emotionally effective documentaries I’ve seen in a while. Fuyao, a car glass manufacturer from China, takes over a closed factory in Detroit, producing jobs and cultural conflicts. The Chinese bosses, and the lower-level Chinese employees brought over, have been raised to think only of the company. The Americans, on the other hand, complain about overwork and unsafe conditions. Soon the American workers are pushing for a union. The ending is not a happy one.
Nina Paley created this blasphemous and hilarious adult animation about the Exodus and Passover Seder, with a nod to the pagan Goddess. Behind the humor, there’s a serious point to be made about the cruelty and violence done in the name of religion. It’s also a musical, using well-known songs and recordings; Paley did all the animating herself, using inventive design in lieu of assistants and expensive technology.
This animated satire screened last year at the Mill Valley Film Festival, without the hyphen in the name. It is a very Jewish movie.
B+ Shut Up and Play the Piano
This documentary on musical genius Chilly Gonzales (real name Jason Charles Beck) gets better as it goes, from metaphorical nails on a chalkboard to a sublime mix of rap and orchestra. Gonzales himself comes off as a barely sane but brilliant artist sprouting words, tunes, and concepts at a near-impossible speed. This is a man who crowd surfs at a Viennese orchestra concert. Director Philipp Jedicke captures his unusual subject by conventional and very unconventional methods.
How is this a Jewish film? Gonzales (or, should I say, Beck) is Jewish, and it comes up a couple of times in the movie.
D How About Adolf
The Festival promotes this very stagey German drama as a “savage comedy [that] raucously lampoons contemporary German attitudes,” but the few laughs are confined to the very beginning and end, and there’s no real biting satire. The basic concept – a young, pregnant couple want to name their boy Adolf – can’t carry a feature-length film. So the screenplay (and the stage play it is so obviously based on) has family and friends spilling out their deepest and darkest secrets. The result is a weak, contrived version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
How is this a Jewish movie? None of the characters are Jewish, but they talk quite a bit about Hitler’s crimes.